Council chief executive denies ‘cooking up’ office move to form unitary authority

County Hall North, Horsham, West Sussex. Photo by Derek Martin

County Hall North, Horsham, West Sussex. Photo by Derek Martin

The council’s chief executive has denied he ‘cooked up’ an office move with his opposite number at the county council to form a unitary authority.

Revised recommendations to look at relocating to part share County Hall North in Horsham’s Chart Way with West Sussex County Council were agreed by Horsham District Council last Wednesday.

Because the original recommendation had been to agree in principle to the move, many members expressed concern at committing to a decision before seeing a detailed business case.

Referencing a County Times editorial piece from November, Christian Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West) asked if this was the first step towards moving to a unitary authority.

He said: “I do not have a problem with a unitary authority. There is much to speak in its favour but we must know it’s categorically not on the table at all.”

Tom Crowley, chief executive at HDC, said: “A rumour doing the rounds which I discussed with Christian Mitchell that this whole idea started with a plan I cooked up with the chief executive of the county council to form a unitary authority. That is absolute nonsense.”

Members who also serve as county councillors had to declare a prejudicial interest and were excluded from the debate, but were allowed to address the chamber as members of the public.

Philip Circus (Con, Chanctonbury) said: “There may be substantial savings that may justify it but the fact is this council in terms of public perception will be diminished.”

But Jim Rae (Con, Holbrook East) said: “As a council we have an absolute duty as Tom [Crowley] quite rightly pointed out to deliver and continue to deliver quality services at the least cost to the taxpayer.”

During the debate Christine Costin (LDem, Trafalgar) referred to last week’s news that Park House is being marketed to let/for sale, and said she had heard a firm of accountants had already been lined up, while the relocation from Park North ‘is already planned and pretty much ready to go’.

She said: “The report before us is another example of how badly information is being shared with town members and with most other back benchers.”

Mr Crowley replied: “I will deny what councillor Costin has just said. It’s untrue. There are no done deals.”

Most members felt the move was worth exploring, but some felt they should also be exploring other options.

Malcolm Curnock (LDem, Broadbridge Heath) said: “As a councillor I’m being asked to agree in principle to a one-option solution. I fully endorse the objectives of what we are trying to achieve here.”

Roger Arthur (UKIP, Chantonbury) added: “There is no shame in examining all alternative options for reducing costs.”

David Holmes (LDem, Horsham Park) said: “It seems a no brainer but we have to be aware of the risks.”

Andrew Baldwin (Con, Holbrook East) added: “This building [Park North] is not fit for purpose. We have to realise the building is past it.”

Stuart Ritchie (Con, Itchingfield, Slinfold and Warnham) put forward the amended recommendation, which was approved with one abstention.

This week a spokesperson for HDC confirmed Mr Crowley authorised the marketing of the council’s buildings, including Park House, following discussions with a cross-party Member Advisory Group.




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